Judge OKs brain tests in Reno end-of-life case

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Posted: Dec 29, 2015 7:56 PM
Judge OKs brain tests in Reno end-of-life case

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A Nevada judge gave a Reno hospital the go-ahead Tuesday to conduct brain wave tests on a 20-year-old woman who has been on life-support since April, but the judge indicated she won't rule until at least Jan. 22 on the crucial question of life or death.

Washoe County Family Court Judge Frances Doherty said she wants lawyers for Aden Hailu's father and Saint Mary's Regional Medical Center to submit arguments by Jan. 8 about whether additional CT scan and eye reflex tests should be performed.

David O'Mara, attorney for the father, Fanuel Gebreyes, lost a bid to delay brain electroencephalogram, or EEG, tests until Hailu receives additional thyroid treatments that could boost her metabolism and better measure her condition.

"We need to have Aden in the position that she can actually have the tests done," he argued.

After lengthy discussion about the endocrine system during the four-hour court hearing, including testimony from one of Hailu's former doctors, neurologist Aaron Heide, Doherty said she didn't have any evidence to conclude continued thyroid treatment would significantly alter results of tests to determine brain activity.

O'Mara has previously accused the hospital of wanting to pull the plug to cut costs — and said that as long as there's a chance Hailu is alive, the hospital should treat her.

The judge told O'Mara and Gebreyes on Tuesday that they're free to move Hailu to another facility if they want.

O'Mara said later they haven't found a place to take her.

"We are in the process of locating a treatment facility to provide the necessary treatment so Aden can receive the treatment she deserves," he said.

William Peterson, an attorney representing the hospital, said Tuesday it's unfair to force the hospital to treat Hailu indefinitely.

He said the issue wasn't money, but respect for medical judgment.

"What they want is to do nothing," Peterson said of Gebreyes and O'Mara. "They want the hospital to contradict the medical opinions of our doctors, which we cannot and should not do."

The hospital released a statement calling the money argument "disheartening" and insisting that treatment decisions are made according to "best practices that align with patient safety and administration of quality care."

Hailu, a freshman at the University of Nevada, Reno, never awoke from anesthesia after abdominal surgery April 1. Doctors said she suffered severe low blood pressure and a lack of oxygen to the brain during the surgery.

Saint Mary's doctors said three EEG tests conducted during the first two weeks of April showed declining brain function, and no EEG tests were performed after that. Hospital officials declared Hailu brain dead May 28.

The hospital said Tuesday the assessment was made according to "nationally recognized neurological standards" and said doctors remain "willing to conduct any and all tests currently in use in the United States in order to confirm the original diagnosis."

Gebreyes appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court, which ruled last month that Doherty too quickly rejected the family's bid to have Saint Mary's keep Hailu on life-support.

Gebreyes, meanwhile, refused to consent to new tests. He instead insisted that Hailu be given thyroid medication and a tracheostomy so she can receive nutrition through her throat, not just intravenous fluids.

Gebreyes has declined interview requests. O'Mara said the father knows Hailu's condition isn't good but believes she can recover.

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Ritter reported from Las Vegas.